In an effort to increase giving to local nonprofits for a second year, the United Way of the Plains is challenging locals to pledge $15.6 million to its annual fall fundraising campaign.
The amount exceeds last year’s target by $500,000. But it’s a reachable goal, United Way campaign chair John O’Leary said Thursday, even in the face of a poor economy and reined-in giving seen in recent years.
“It’s been a tough couple of years around here,” O’Leary, vice president of Airbus Americas Engineering, said to a crowd of nearly 900 in remarks at the campaign’s kickoff, held at Century II Expo Hall.
“This downturn is nothing that we haven’t seen before and it’s nothing that we can’t handle.”
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The campaign — featuring the motto “Give Here. Get Through.” — continues through Nov. 16. The United Way provides funding to 87 programs at 38 organizations in Sedgwick and Butler counties. Last year the United Way surpassed its $15.1 million goal by $120,000.
The kickoff event comes on the heels of the charity’s summer Pacesetter campaign, which garnered $475,084 in contributions from 10 local companies charged with “setting the pace” for the upcoming fundraising season. Speakers on Thursday said they hope the summer contributions — up 20 percent from last year — reflect the enthusiasm expected during the fall campaign.
“My hope is that we live up to the tradition and the history of Kansas,” Sen. Jerry Moran said in the morning’s keynote speech. “That we respond to those in need, that we take action when there are challenges, and that we make a difference in our neighbors’ and our community’s lives.”
This year marks the charity’s 90th anniversary in Wichita. United Way started in Denver in 1887, rooted in “a gold boom (that) became a gold bust,” United Way president Pat Hanrahan said during remarks at the breakfast meeting. When people were homeless and hungry, Denver community leaders raised money, leading to the nation’s first United Way campaign, he said.
“Back then we gave out free ice and milk to the poor,” Hanrahan said. “Now it’s about literacy programs and gang prevention.”
One such program helped Wichita resident April Kick, 33, reclaim her life. At Thursday’s meeting, she told of her successful employment, home ownership and ongoing strides to give her 2-year-old son a life that includes a sober mom — something, she said, her 13-year drug addiction robbed from her teenager.
“My oldest one didn’t get that chance. With my oldest one, I was on and off for the whole time I raised him,” Kick said of her older son, 15.
“I’m in recovery and I’m doing better now than I’ve done in my life.”
Kick attributes much of her success to the Kansas Children’s Service League, a nonprofit advocating for children and families that receives benefits from United Way.
“It’s for people like me who needed support because they didn’t have it from their families,” she said of contributions made to the campaign.
As in previous years, much of the money donated will come from employee payroll deductions, funds matching programs and corporate gifts. Individuals, however, remain key to the campaign’s success, O’Leary said after the meeting.
“Just give five,” he said, citing another United Way slogan asking donors to consider giving five minutes worth of pay each day. “Look at what you do, look at what you make. Give five minutes. Not five percent. Just give five minutes.
“If everybody does that on an individual basis, with over 600,000 people in our community, we’ll make it.”
The United Way is accepting donations through payroll deduction at participating employers. Contributions also may be made online at www.unitedwayplains.org or mailed to: United Way of the Plains, 245 N. Water, Wichita, KS 67202.